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New England Patriots Star Rob Gronkowski’s Great-Grandfather Was an Olympic Cyclist

By Peter Joffre Nye

Chairman Bill's note:
Author Peter Joffre Nye's latest work is his biography of Albert Champion, The Fast Times of Albert Champion: From Record-Setting Racer to Dashing Tycoon, An Untold Story of Speed, Success, and Betrayal (Prometheus Books) is available in hardcover and Kindle eBook.

Champion (1878-1927) was an incredible man, as a bicycle racer he was winner of Paris-Roubaix and set more than a hundred world records. He went on to found both the Champion Spark Plug Company and General Motors Division AC Delco Systems.

Just click on the Amazon link to the right to get your copy of this terrific book.

Also on this site is Mr. Nye's story of one of cycling's toughest-ever racers, Reggie McNamara. McNamara won over 700 races and was one of the greatest-ever six-day racers. Oh, and there's Nye's story of Joseph Magnani, the Illinois rider who challenged Coppi and Bartali.

We have lots more rider histories here, many by Mr. Nye.


Here's Peter Joffre Nye's story:

Fast legs are a family trait in the Gronkowski family. New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski’s great-grandfather was Ignatius (Iggy) Gronkowski, who set national cycling records in short distances and competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics road race.

Rob Gornkowski

Rob Gronkowski

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For the 1924 Olympics, all sports team directors were on their own to find housing. As a result, Iggy Gronkowski (1897-1981) of Buffalo and his six teammates had to make do sleeping in a horse barn outside Paris. The riders complained that they were often rudely awakened every night when horses kicked the walls of their stalls, stomped around, and were noisy when they munched straw.

1924 Olympic cycling team

The 1924 Olympic cycling team at Paris. From left: John Bonlicault (6 foot 3), Ignatius (Iggy) Gronkowski, Victor Hopkins, Rene Braet, Gus Hentschel, James Armando. Harry Hopkins photo.

The 188-kilometer road race was far longer than anything Gronkowski and his Olympic teammates ever rode. He had set five national records in distances from the half-mile to two miles. Road racing in his era of the low-budget Amateur Bicycle League of America was limited to local clubs hosting occasional jaunts, usually 50 miles or under. ABLA national road championships weren’t introduced until 1965.

Unlike the mass-start road race we are familiar with today, the Paris Olympics road race was an individual time trial. Riders had one speed bikes. The course went out into the countryside and riders were on their own in traffic and dealing with intersections and railroad crossings. Some riders, including American Victor Hopkins of Davenport, Iowa, were forced to wait till a train passed through.

Iggy finished 45th among 72 starters, in 7:34:41.8. He was the second U.S. rider, behind John Bonicault of Las Vegas, 33rd, time of 7:15:51.6. The US team finished 11 of 22 teams.

Ignatius Gronkowski

Ignatius (Iggy) Gronkowski

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Harry Hopkins, whose father is U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame Inductee Victor Hopkins, said his dad talked about how the USA cycling team was promised entry into the Tour de France if they finished first in the team competition. The 188-kilometer road race proved a tough task for the Americans. Participation of Americans in the Tour de France would have to wait for more than another half-century.

In another interesting historical side note, the 1924 group photo, including Iggy Gronkowski (second from the left), looks as if the men had their legs shaved. They could be the first U.S. team with shaved legs.

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